The Guardian — With the continent sweltering under a heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, tempers have been boiling over, too, as a wave of anti-tourism protests take place in some of Europe’s most popular destinations. Yet, as “tourism-phobia” becomes a feature of the summer, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has defended the sector, calling on local authorities to do more to manage growth in a sustainable manner.
The focal point for much of this has been Spain, which had a record 75.6 million tourists last year, including 17.8 million from the UK. In Barcelona, where tensions have been rising for years over the unchecked surge in visitors and impact of sites such as Airbnb on the local housing market, Arran, the youth wing of the radical CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), have been filmed slashing the tyres of rental bicycles and a tour bus. An Arran spokesperson told the BBC: “Today’s model of tourism expels people from their neighbourhoods and harms the environment.” Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy described the group as “extremists”.
There have also been protests in Mallorca and San Sebastián, where an anti-tourism march is planned for 17 August, to coincide with Semana Grande – a major festival of Basque culture.
Other demonstrations have taken place across southern Europe. Last month in Venice – which sees more than 20 million visitors a year and has just 55,000 residents – 2,000 locals marched through the city, voicing anger at rising rents and the impact of huge cruise ships and the pollution they cause to the city’s delicate environment.
Speaking to the Guardian, UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai said the rise in anti-tourist sentiment is “a very serious situation that needs to be addressed in a serious way”. If managed correctly, he added, tourism can be the “best ally” to conservation, preservation and the community.
“It should not be given up for the sake of mismanagement,” he said. “Ensuring that tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies, practices and the engagement of national as well as local governments and administrations, private sector companies, local communities and tourists themselves.”
Earlier this year, Barcelona started cracking down on unlicensed Airbnb rentals, doubling the numbers of inspectors checking properties. Of around 16,000 holiday rentals in the city, 7,000 are believed to be unlicensed.
In Venice, the mayor’s office has also been attempting to tackle the problem. In June it said it would introduce a ban on new tourist accommodation in the city centre, and “people counters” have been installed at popular sites to monitor overcrowding.
Italy has also been cracking down on anti-social behaviour in other tourist hotspots. In Rome, this means a ban on people eating or paddling in the city’s fountains and drinking on the street at night. Similar measures have been put into place in Milan – which introduced a summer ban on everything from food trucks to selfie sticks in the Darsena neighbourhood.
In Dubrovnik, another city where cruise ships unload thousands of visitors at a time, the mayor has introduced cameras to monitor the number of visitors in its Unesco-listed old town, so that the flow of people entering can be slowed – or even stopped – once a certain number is reached. Meanwhile, the mayor of popular Croatian party island Hvar has pledged to put an end to debauchery by mostly British tourists by slapping them with huge fines.